The link between food and health is well established. In terms of economic burden, obesity and diabetes cost the U.S. hundreds of billions a year. Whereas 15% of the U.S. population is food insecure, 47% of inpatients at The General are food insecure. For low-income families, like those served at The General, maintaining a healthy diet is often at odds with economic demands to merely survive and maintain adequate food, clothing, and shelter. Food insecurity is associated with higher rates of hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes.

The Therapeutic Food Pantry will address the disproportionately high need for food assistance among The General’s patients with the ultimate goal of improving health outcomes and reducing preventable healthcare utilization. The program received a $15,000 Hearts Grant to help launch its pilot program in Spring 2015.

As part of their clinical care plan, patients will receive “prescriptions” for healthy food. These prescriptions can be filled at the Food Pantry where patients will receive items such as fresh produce, whole grains, low fat milk, eggs, brown rice, and quinoa. The pantry will be staffed by a nutritionist who will provide on-site nutrition education, resources, and referrals to Wellness Center programs at The General. Patients will receive more than 25 pounds of groceries per visit, which will feed a family of four for around five days. Patients can return every two weeks for as many refills as indicated by their provider.

The pilot program will include 30-40 pregnant women who have diabetes. In late 2015/early 2016, the program will expand to also include children from the Healthy Lifestyles Clinic who suffer from obesity. When the program is fully operational, it will serve approximately 500 patients with an average household size of four. This means 2,000 people will benefit from the Therapeutic Food Pantry each year.

With this novel and comprehensive food program, The General aims to address core patient and community needs, with the ultimate goal of improving health outcomes and reducing preventable disease.

“The Foundation’s help has been invaluable to us in starting up the Therapeutic Food Pantry; the seed money and staff support allows us to leverage other funding possibilities and makes it possible for us to take the first steps to turning this vision to reality,” shares Rita Nguyen, MD. “We aim to be a leader and model for other health systems to more creatively approach health promotion and disease prevention.”